By Tia M. Zavaras, Benson, Kerrane, Storz & Nelson
As a Coloradan, you don’t need to be a meteorologist to know a couple truths about our weather. It can be extreme. And it can be unpredictable. Three weeks ago, I was seeding my lawn and planting flowers. Today, I’m watching the sun melt the remnants of the last snow storm off my deck. I love the unpredictable Colorado weather, but I have seen many cautionary tales of communities caught off guard when Mother Nature invariably strikes. Because we don’t have a crystal ball to tell us when our next weather event will occur, this is the time of year to take inventory of the preventative measures you can implement in your communities. These measures go a long way in preventing costly damage to residential and business structures and their contents.
The best way to get communities ready for Mother Nature is to do a site walk with a trusted licensed contractor. Take time to walk around every building to observe the conditions. The most important function of a structure is to keep Mother Nature out.
Grab a Poncho
After a storm, take the opportunity to look at how water is being managed around the community. Pay attention to window and door leaks. They can and will damage the contents and finishes of the home or business but, over time, prolonged and continued water intrusion into a structure will also damage the building framing. If water is entering the structure at multiple units in the same community, contact a licensed architect or engineer to determine the cause of the water intrusion and to provide a repair recommendation that can be implemented by a licensed contractor.
Hang On to Your Umbrella While You Inspect the Roofs!
We often feel the wrath of Mother Nature first at the top of the structure. Is it time to perform maintenance on the roof penetrations such as plumbing vents and skylights? Are the boots on the vents cracked and damaged? Has the sealant at the vent or flashing deteriorated? These are all common areas of water intrusion following heavy precipitation. Inspecting and maintaining these areas will go a long way to prevent Mother Nature from wreaking havoc on the roofs.
Get Your Mind in the Gutter
Move to the sides of those roofs and observe how the gutters are performing. Roof gutters serve to remove snow and water away from the structure. Are the gutters clogged with the leaves and debris from last fall? In the winter, they can become blocked or damaged by ice damming. Gutters need to maintain proper slope so that the water does not sit against the roof structure any longer than necessary. Follow the gutter to the downspout extension. Is the extension still attached or has it been removed and is lying next to the building? Is the elbow bent up against the structure, preventing proper discharge of the water? Re-route any extensions that discharge water near a window well. Make sure that the extension has positive slope to properly discharge water at least six feet away from the building foundation. Speaking of foundations, walk around them. Is water ponding against the foundation because the grade is flat, or has little or reverse slope towards the building?
Now, Put Your Galoshes On
Step back from the buildings and observe whether water collects and saturates the sod even though it has been days since there has been precipitation. Is there an area that is referred to as the community’s “mosquito coast” because of a constant source of stagnant or ponding water? If so, it’s a good idea to have an engineer provide grading recommendations. You’d be two steps ahead of Mother Nature.
In summer, even when Mother Nature has been quiet for five minutes, it is not uncommon for sump pumps to be working overtime to remove water from the foundation. Is that sump pump discharging on to the sidewalk, making it a mossy mess during the warm months and a sheet of ice when it’s cold? If so, your engineer can help re-route the sump pump discharge.
One smart way to get ahead of Mother Nature, is to review your communities’ liability insurance policies with your favorite insurance broker to determine if they are adequately insured for losses due to Mother Nature. More and more communities are having to opt for high deductible policies, especially for hail claims. If your community will incur a significant deductible on their next hail or flood claim, the association will invariably have to specially assess owners to pay that deductible. Those assessments can run in the thousands of dollars. If any of your communities have these high deductible policies, it’s a good idea to notify the owners and recommend they add a very inexpensive “special assessment” endorsement to their own personal owners’ insurance policies to cover the special assessment.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this couldn’t be more true for community associations in Colorado. Taking steps now will save you and your communities from headaches in the future. As Mother Nature has shown us in recent years in Colorado, we never know exactly what to expect, be it wildfires, blizzards, wind storms, hail, or floods. However, by being proactive and taking a few steps now before disaster strikes, you can position your communities to weather whatever Mother Nature decides to throw at them.
Tia M. Zavaras is a Partner at Benson, Kerrane, Storz & Nelson. When she is not attending her boys’ sporting events or litigating construction defect cases, she enjoys gardening and working in the yard.